What may seem like a whimsical experiment to many has become a large-scale trial in the UK: a four-day working week for every three days off.
Eager to find a solution to the slowdown in productivity growth that has plagued this country and other economies in recent years, companies like Five Squirrels are running pilot projects to implement this journey.
According to its owner Gary Conroy, the self-described “Chief Squirrel” (Chief Squirrel), the results so far have been satisfactory. “There are fewer errors because people can focus a little more. They’re a little less tired.”
From June 2022, the British skincare maker’s 15 staff will work four days a week, although they are still paid for five days. Furthermore, to maintain performance, they do not answer calls, ignore email, and turn off instant messaging for four hours a day.
Robert Bogdan, head of manufacturing, makes a skin care product at 5 Squirrels, a skin care company in Hove, Great Britain. April 18, 2023. Reuters – Anna Gordon
Robert Bogdan, head of manufacturing, develops a skin care product at 5 Squirrels, a skin care company in Hove, Great Britain. April 18, 2023. Reuters/Anna Gordon
“We saw a huge increase in productivity across all metrics (…) people are actually exceeding targets and there has been a 40 percent increase in all areas we measured. Ultimately, revenue and profit increased by 40 percent in that six-month period. We are happy,” said the trader.
The solution to slow productivity growth?
Productivity is measured as the amount of economic output per hour worked. In the UK, it grew at an average rate of about 2% a year from the 1970s until the financial crisis, driven by a steady rise in living standards.
However, between 2010 and 2019, this growth averaged only 0.75% per year and the Bank of England estimates it will be close to zero in the coming years, partly due to the red tape involved in leaving the European Union.
Five Squirrels is one of 61 UK-based companies that took part in the world’s largest four-day week-long trial, most with 25 or fewer employees. Satisfied with the result, 56 have already followed the policy.
According to the World Economic Forum, similar experiments have already been done in other parts of the world with positive results. While critics of the initiative say it is impractical in some industries, supporters say a shorter work week means less stressed employees and a better work-life balance.